Japan: Places to go people to see

Japan's media landscape can seem vast and complex. Here, Robin Hicks uncovers the top ten properties and places every visitor should know about.


Every three minutes, when the walking man turns green, hundreds of Tokyoites pour over Shibuya Crossing, the world's busiest pedestrian intersection. The crossing is a five-way junction outside the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, where a number of the city's subway and train lines connect. An estimated one million people pass over the crossing every day.

"It's busy all day, but the best time for advertisers is at dusk during weekdays, when young professionals head home, and at weekends, when Tokyo's hipsters go shopping," Robert Fuchs, the chief executive of Carat Japan, says.

Giant TV screens and five storey-high digital panels are dotted around the site. Large billboards hang on surrounding high-rise buildings, and advertisers can buy posters mounted on trucks that cruise around the area.

Tokyu Toyoko, a popular department store, has become a creative hotspot in Shibuya. In 2004, its walls hosted a game of football 12 storeys above ground to push Adidas' "impossible is nothing" proposition.

Sites here aren't cheap. John Merrifield, TBWA Asia-Pacific's creative at large and the originator of the Adidas stunt, says he was initially quoted $1.5 million for construction of a horizontal football pitch at Shibuya. He opted for a vertical pitch instead. This worked out at an affordable $180,000 - and "vertical football" was born.

Advertisers with fat budgets could, in theory, "own" Shibuya Crossing. But, because the sites are owned by a number of local landlords, buying the area as a package is hugely complicated. Best call Dentsu's Out Of Home Media Division, which has long-standing relationships with the landowners.


The 133-year-old Yomiuri Shimbun is Japan's (and the world's) largest circulating newspaper. The paper is printed in the mornings and evenings, has three regional editions (Tokyo, Osaka and Seibu) and an English-language version. These combine to push daily sales well over 14 million copies.

Thanks to a love of tradition and a subscription model where 90 per cent of papers are delivered to the door, that figure remains stable. Almost a third of Yomiuri readers have been subscribers for more than 20 years.

The Yomiuri readership (26.3 million) peaks by demographic at different times of the day. The paper is delivered at 6am, when it is typically read by the man of the house over breakfast. His wife reads it over lunch, then the children when they get back from school. That's the idea, anyway.

The paper's political leanings are considered neo-conservative, while the Asahi Shimbun, its closest rival (circulation eight million), is regarded as more liberal. But, on the whole, there is little to choose between them editorially. "Neither has a very distinct personality," Fuchs says. "So the newspaper you read is dictated by family tradition or the charm of the door-to-door newspaper salesman."

High competition has led to "horse dealing" with advertisers, Fuchs says, with heavy discounts (of 20 per cent or more) the norm. But, Dave McCaughan, the head of planning at McCann Erickson Japan, says: "Japan's newspapers are still highly regarded. Any serious campaign has to have a newspaper element to be credible."


The terrestrial broadcaster Fuji TV gave its rivals a hiding in Japan's ratings war for the third year running, beating next-best TBS in all dayparts in 2006, according to the local monitor Video Research.

The station is up to date and youth-friendly, and its focus on entertainment programming has been applauded by advertisers. Sales revenues grew by 5 per cent last year, to £2 billion.

But, like Japan's big newspapers, the broadcaster has differentiation issues. Many of its programmes closely resemble those of its rivals. And all but the longest-running shows are replaced every month or so, leaving little opportunity for audience loyalty.

"Most popular are 'wide shows'. The format for these is usually two hours of music, chat and dancing, anchored by a silver-haired host on a big, horrible stage," McCaughan says. "The problem is, you'll get the same host on three different channels." (The tireless Mino Monta hosts Japan's weekly version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on Fuji TV, fronts a talk show on TBS in the mornings and a show on NTV in the afternoons. Phew!)

Also popular are Fuji's dramas, such as My Wife's Having An Affair This Week?!. But reality TV is unpopular, and there's no Pop Idol. "Japan is the only major market in the world where Idol hasn't worked," McCaughan says. "In Japan, you don't do something unless you're good at it. Least of all on national television."

Fuji's latest efforts focus on a newly emerging primetime. "Between 11pm and 2am, salary men get home from the office and the youngsters take a break from their homework," Kazuhiro Shimada, the head of strategy at the broadcaster Viacom International, which owns MTV Japan and Nickelodeon, says. "It is a test slot of new shows, and is Fuji's fastest growing in the ratings stakes."


Forget MySpace or Bebo, Mixi is Japan's most popular social networking site. It allows shy Japanese boys and girls to meet without feeling awkward. And it's invitation-only, which has helped the site earn cult status.

This January, Mixi had eight million members, up from two million in January 2006. It's also particularly "sticky". Members spend up to four hours a day on the site, longer than Yahoo!, Japan's leading portal, or Rakuten, Japan's top online shopping destination.

The Mixi company, which floated in September last year, made a billionaire out of the founder, Kenji Kasahara. Keizo Yamamoto, the managing direct or of OgilvyOne Japan, says much of the $93 million raised via the stock exchange listing will be pumped into improving the site. And with good reason. "Mixi's bosses feel very threatened by the launch of MySpace Japan (a joint venture between News Corporation and SoftBank). So they plan to add functions and grow its service offering," Yamamoto says.

One way to keep ahead of the game could be to make Mixi more suitable for mobile phones. "Mixi's page views on PCs are falling, but are rising on mobiles," Keiji Takahashi, the head of operations at Neo@Ogilvy, observes.

"If MySpace is smart, it will launch a mobile version here too."


Part of the huge Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan Economic Times) business information empire, Nikkei Business has led Japan's business weekly market since its debut in the late 60s.

Well respected by senior businessmen, it is regarded as the sector's more traditional title. Eighteen per cent of its readers are chief executives or chairmen, 20 per cent are over 60 years old and 93 per cent are men.


This comic brand has hooked generations of Japanese boys with fantastical tales of young warriors doing battle with dragons, aliens and the like.

It is Japan's - and the world's - best-read manga (comic) with local versions translated and distributed globally. Its heroes live on in a monthly title, a Sunday edition and a magazine plus spin-off novels, cartoons, films and computer games. However, the latter has put a dent in its popularity. In its heyday, Shonen Jump's weekly circulation regularly topped six million. It is now below half that number as Japanese boys turn to games consoles for their kicks.

The title is also a victim of Japan's demographic shift. "When I was reading it in the 80s, Jump was at its height. It had many strong characters and stories," Shimada remembers. "But my generation outgrew it, and there are now fewer kids to replenish its readership."


Used by 300,000 people every day, the Ginza line runs through the heart of Tokyo. At one end is Shibuya, a Mecca for the young and trendy. In the middle is Ginza itself, home to the city's nightlife hotspots, mega department stores and brand theme shops. And a few stops along is Emotosanto, the Champs Elysee of Tokyo, where the well-heeled step out to hunt for luxury brands.

Posters cover the halls, stairways and platforms, but the carriages are the Ginza line's prime advertising real estate. Strip ads run above the windows, stickers cover the doors and posters hang amid the handrails.

Most striking are the "tunnel vision" ads, McCaughan says. "Sequenced backlit frames from a commercial placed on the tunnel walls are spaced so that it looks like you're watching video passing you out the window."

Even the posters on the Ginza line are unusual. Most are marked with "QR" (Quick Response) codes which, when photographed by an i-mode phone, relay promotional information via the brand's website.


The company has connected wireless devices to the internet since 1999, when WAP was trying (and failing) to gain a foothold in Europe. The service now commands more than half of Japan's mobile phone market.

The Japanese are more likely to use their ketai (mobiles) to access the web than make calls. Which explains why mobile takes a tenth of digital adspend. "In cost-per-click terms, an i-mode campaign is more expensive than a banner. But it's still far cheaper, and often more effective, than traditional channels," Takahashi says.

But it's early days. Chikao Minami, the head of media planning and buying at Nissan, says: "We've been looking at how we should best use i-mode. But we've not found an effective way yet. It's extremely difficult to make the exterior of a car look attractive on a mobile phone screen."

More than two-thirds of "i-moders" have 3G handsets. And 3.5G, with its higher-speed internet access, is increasingly popular. Most now come with streaming TV via content deals with broadcasters and have touch screens. The latest models are scented.


Last year, the broadcaster celebrated a return to second place in the ratings charts for the first time since 1988, beating the historical market leader Nippon Television, which dropped to third place.

While NTV's dusty image has seen it fall behind, TBS has recovered with strong news, current affairs and documentary programming. Coverage of the arrest of Livedoor's Takafumi Horie (see right) and the documentary Hiroshima are recent highlights.

"Fuji TV leads in entertainment, but TBS is known for quality journalism and in-depth 60 Minutes-style news analysis," Shimada says.

FM 802

Radio is viewed as a downmarket, parochial medium by Japan's advertisers, Fuchs says. But Osaka's "Funky FM 802" is an exception. Almost three million 20- to 34-year-olds tune in to "Meet the Music on the Radio" every day - double that of its closest local rival.

The station offers paid-content for mobiles and a credit card grants members tickets for gigs and movie previews. It also hosts music events, the most successful being the annual "Meet the World Beat" summer gig for young artists in Osaka's Expo Park.

- Robin Hicks is the South-East Asia editor at Media Asia.

Exposure: One million people a day
Audience share: 8 per cent of Tokyo's urban population (12 million)
Core audience: Tokyo's young trendies
Advertising options: Giant digital screens, static posters,
Owners: Local landlords

Circulation: Ten million (morning edition), four million (evening)
Audience share: 31 per cent of top-ten newspapers
Core audience: Male workers, housewives
Advertising options: Ads sized by column width, islands, side boxes or
dog-ears (page corners)
Owner: Yomiuri Shimbun Inc

Reach: 27.3 per cent of adults daily
Audience share: 14.2 per cent
Core audience: 20- to 34-year-old men and women, teens
Advertising options: Spots, sponsorship
Owner: Fuji News Network

Exposure: Eight million registered members; 750 million page views per
month via the web; two billion page views per month via mobile
Audience share: 10 per cent (of Japan's 73.6 million web users)
Core audience: Courting youngsters
Advertising options: 20-plus "media menus" offering a mix of banners and
contextual ads
Owner: Mixi Inc

Exposure: 51 million subscribers
Audience share: 56 per cent of internet mobile market
Core audience: All ages, slightly male skewed
Advertising options: SMS, web page sponsorship, on-demand TV ads
Owner: NTT DoCoMo

Exposure: 300,000 passengers per day
Audience share: 2.5 per cent of Tokyo's urban population
Core audience: Wealthy shoppers
Advertising options: Billboards, stickers, hanging posters, "tunnel
Owner: Tokyo Metro Co

Circulation: 2.8 million per week
Audience share: 21 per cent of top-ten magazines
Core audience: Teenage boys
Advertising options: Only a few of its 300 pages take ads
Owner: Shueishav

Reach: 20 per cent of adults daily
Audience share: 12.8 per cent
Core audience: 30- to 45-year-old males
Advertising options: Spots, sponsorship
Owner: Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc

FM 802
Exposure: 2.9 million listeners per day
Audience share: 55 per cent (Osaka only)
Core audience: 20- to 34-year-old Osakans
Advertising options: 15- and 30-second spots, event sponsorship
Owner: FM 802 Co

Reach: 332,000 readers per week
Audience share: 49 per cent of top-four business titles
Core readership: Fortysomething male executives
Advertising options: Full pages, vertical fractionals
Owner: Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc



The 48-storey headquarters of Dentsu houses the world's largest agency brand, and employs 6,000 people.

According to Robert Fuchs, the chief executive of Carat Japan, Dentsu's president and chief executive, Tateo Mataki, "is not usually accessible to ordinary human beings". But it's still worth trying. Without Dentsu's say so, it's not easy to run an advertising business in Japan.

And given that Dentsu controls a quarter of Japan's advertising market, Mataki's contacts book is vast. "He knows everyone worth knowing," Fuchs insists.

Contact Dentsu HQ (tel) +81 3 6216 8042


Sir Howard Stringer, the chairman and chief executive of Sony, is based in the Shinagawa district. The Cardiff-born former CBS journalist became the first foreign-born head of a major Japanese company when he got the top job in 2005. He faces the daunting task of reviving a corporation that has lost a quarter of its value since 2001.

"As a foreign boss, Stringer hasn't enjoyed the success of Carlos Ghosn (a Brazilian at Nissan) in turning his company around," Grey Global's president and chief executive, Chris Beaumont, says.

Contact Sony HQ (tel) + 81 3 5448 2111


Meet Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank, the Japanese media and telecoms giant. Son shook the media industry when he acquired half of Yahoo! in the 90s, and again last year when he swallowed Vodafone Japan for $15 billion. "Son-san is working on ways to connect Yahoo! with his telecoms and high-speed broadband business," McCann Erickson Japan's head of planning, Dave McCaughan, says. "If his plans win out, he will completely change Japan's media landscape."

Contact SoftBank HQ (tel) +81 3 5642 8013


Over in bustling Shibuya, if you can negotiate your way through the busy crossing, you'll be able to find Kazuhiro Saito, the Conde Nast Japan president. Saito is also the publisher of Vogue Nippon and the chief editor of GQ Japan. "Saito is in constant meetings with all the heads of the big fashion houses, so he really is the best person to talk to to get a good idea of what's hot and what's not," Viacom International's head of strategy, Kazuhiro Shimada, says.

Contact Conde Nast Japan (tel) + 81 3 5485 9120


Yasumichi Oka promised to stir up the agency scene when he founded Tugboat in 1999. Frustrated with the big-agency approach, the ex-Dentsu creative director set out to put creativity higher up clients' list of priorities. Few have dared follow his lead - mostly because, Oka insists, creative shops rarely appear on the rosters of big advertisers. One rare creative-led agency is Fallon Tokyo. Its managing director, Phil Rubel, says: "The more content- and creative-focused agencies there are, the better the overall work, which is better for clients and the industry."

Contact Tugboat HQ (tel) +81 3 3406 1445


If you're after a fresh, future-facing perspective, find a reason to pay Hironobu Sakaguchi a visit. He is the creator of Final Fantasy, one of the all-time biggest-selling game franchises. "Sakaguchi is a national treasure," McCaughan says. "I was amazed at a press launch for a game he produced for Xbox 360. Three theatres were filled with journalists to watch him by video link - with no questions at the end. My assistant nearly fainted during the presentation."

Contact Square Enix (Final Fantasy Publisher) (tel) +61 03 5333 1555


The animated film director Hayao Miyazaki has been dubbed Japan's answer to Walt Disney. The co-founder of the famous Studio Ghibli animation house has been animating since the 60s. He directed Japan's biggest-grossing film, Princess Mononoke, in 1999, and won an Oscar for Spirited Away in 2002. "Miyazaki's work touches on the Japanese love of family and harmony in society. The characters he's created are widely referenced and often crop up in everyday conversation," Hoon Kim, the managing director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Japan, says.

Contact Studio Ghibli HQ (tel) 0570 055777


A lesson in internet entrepreneurialism from Hiroshi Mikitani would be time well spent. The founder of the online shopping mall Rakuten, Mikitani raised eyebrows when his company acquired a 15 per cent stake in the TV giant TBS in 2005. He has branched into online banking and entertainment since, and plans to use the TBS tie-up as a platform for a fully fledged online broadcasting channel. "Mikitani is the man to ask for insights into the future of communications and media in Japan," McCaughan says.

Contact Rakuten HQ (tel) +81 3 4523 1104


If your sightseeing takes you to the Royal Palace, north of Minato in Chiyoda, there is also a Japanese media treasure worth visiting. Former Rakuten director Yasuhide Uno is the president of Usen, the broadband-to-karaoke company behind GyaO, the first free TV broadcasting service over the web. "Uno is another of Japan's new-money, new-media entrepreneurs who're trying to shake up the media industry," Kim says.

Contact Usen HQ (tel) +81 3 3509 7105


Takafumi Horie, a 35-year-old T-shirt-wearing internet millionaire, has been nicknamed "Horiemon" because of his likeness to the manga character Doraemon. Horie, the former chief executive of the web portal Livedoor, became an icon of a brash new corporate Japan when he attempted a hostile takeover of Fuji TV in 2005. Horie was arrested in January last year on suspicion of fraud. "He dared to challenge the status quo. But I think he made the mistake of doing it in an extremely direct manner," McCaughan opines.

Contact Livedoor HQ (tel) +81 3 5788 4753.